Chief Minister Andrew Barr has announced during a media event at the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children this afternoon that Assistant Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris will succeed retiring MLA Simon Corbell as Health Minister if Labor is re-elected next month.
The pair answered questions on how their $650 million hospital expansion commitment announced earlier this morning will be funded, and posed for the customary hustings shots with a cute baby, getting that election essential out of the way within hours of the start of the campaign proper.
Neither of them kissed the baby, though Mr Barr did look rather clucky when he gave her a pat at one point.
The Chief Minister opened his remarks to media during the event by anointing Ms Fitzharris as his health spokeswoman.
“I will be pleased to appoint Meegan as Health Minister in a Labor Government should we be re-elected in 37 days time,” Mr Barr said.
“Meegan will take on those responsibilities as health spokesman during the campaign.”
Asked whether she’d had the opportunity to put her stamp on today’s announcement for Labor, Ms Fitzharris said there were certainly components she was particularly interested in, including the expansion of programs for children and the family assistance fund.
“I’ve been trying on a number of fronts to work with families who’ve been in that exact situation,” Ms Fitzharris said.
“The paediatric palliative care nurse in the budget this year exactly came out of conversations with families in those situations, the assistance fund was another one.”
Ms Fitzharris said Labor would be rolling out a number health commitments in the next few days.
“There’s a few in there that I hope have been consistent with what I’ve been working on since I was first elected as Assistant Health Minister,” she said.
As for how the commitment would be funded, Mr Barr, who is Treasurer as well as Chief Minister, said the forward estimates contained provision for capital projects that the Government could draw down on.
“We can also borrow at what are historically low interest rates at this point in time,” he said.
“We will be paying back the Mr Fluffy loan through the proceeds of the sale of those properties. That means that debt is paid down, and it frees up capacity on the Territory balance sheet.
“We also, of course, retain the capacity through our land release program to dispose of some assets that free up capital to invest in health infrastructure, education infrastrucure and transport infrastructure.”
He said these three factors combined over the forward estimates period to provide the Territory within current estimates with capacity to allocate the money for the health project.
“It’s not a free for all, and certainly as a territory we can’t afford to waste $300 million on nothing, but because we are not doing that [tearing up the light rail contracts], we have $300 million more than the Liberals to invest in health infrastructure,” Mr Barr said.
Ms Fitzharris took over management of the Government’s light rail project from Mr Corbell in July, and is expected to replace him as Mr Barr’s deputy after the election irrespective of the result.